Intel today announced that they would be partnering with Rockchip to launch a series of Android-focused mobile SoCs based on Intel’s SoFIA architecture which combines Intel’s x86 architecture with their own modem technology into a single SoC. This would include Intel providing Rockchip with quadcore SoCs running Intel’s own x86 architecture and modems. The SoFIA is essentially a culmination of all of Intel’s work in the mobile space but lacks Intel’s own GPU IP because it utilizes Imagination Technologies’ PowerVR graphics architecture instead. Intel has traditionally used PowerVR graphics in their mobile chips for many years but as their desktop and laptop GPUs got better they started to expand into mobile. Also, the SoFIA chips will not benefit from Intel’s 22nm foundry advantage that they enjoy to promote as their ‘edge’ because it will be manufactured with TSMC instead. We don’t know who will be fabbing the SoFIA chips for Rockchip, but the truth is that Rockchip doesn’t really need Intel’s chips as they’ve successfully won large amounts of SoC design wins without Intel or x86.
In fact, Rockchip is very well known as one of ARM’s biggest partners, so Intel is clearly trying to send a message. As you can see all of Rockchip’s current designs are merely their own SOCs utilizingARM’s own various CPU designs ranging from an M3 all the way up to an ARM Cortex-A17, which is one of ARM’s newest SoCs. Intel and Rockchip are jointly announcing the 1H 2015 availability of this new quad-core SoFIA 3G chip, which increases the SoFIA family roadmap to 3 different products. The dual-core SoFIA 3G chip will come in the fourth quarter of this year, while the quad-core SoFIA 3G chip and dual-core SoFIA LTE chip will come in the first half of 2015. Intel and Rockchip haven’t released quad-core SoFIA 3G pricing qite yet, however they believe it to be price competitive and under their agreement Rockchip and Intel will sell this new part to OEMs and ODM into each company’s existing customer base.
Ultimately, I see this as Intel finding a new distribution channel for their mobile SoCs so that they can gain more design wins, even at the low-end. There’s no denying that SoFIA is designed for the ‘mainstream’ or ‘low cost’ and as a result, pushing such a chip through Rockchip’s channels seems like a logical move for Intel. I don’t necessarily foresee Rockchip doing much with this chip necessarily other than promoting it as an option to their already existing Chinese OEM and ODM customers. Rockchip isn’t necessarily a popular SoC outside of China, however so many whitelabel tablets and smartphones get made in China and sold outside to other markets that there’s a good chance you could spot a SoFIA-based Rockchip product in a tablet almost anywhere in the world. I simply believe this to be Intel widening their addressable customer base and nothing more, really. Some people seem to be confused by this connection of Rockchip and Intel, but if anything it should make ARM have to work harder for Rockchip’s business which I’m sure they’d like considering Mediatek, AllWinner and Qualcomm’s success.